Coping & Grounding via: Backpacking

Catching Myself

I have to admit that for a while during my days off, I often found myself extremely frustrated and agitated with the small and simple mishaps in everyday life. I wouldn’t even realize I was frustrated until my face was burried in my hands while I took deep deep breaths. Or sometimes, perhaps many times, I didn’t realize my frustrations until I yelled at someone.

Someone seemingly in the way.

Someone completely innocent.

Someone I deeply cared for.

I also have to admit that I’m not the best person at expressing these feelings. But to my defense, I don’t think I knew what it was I was even feeling. So how could I be remotely responsible for expressing it?

This is not an excuse. It’s a retrospective observation.

I’ve caught myself many times. I’ve caught my self moments before my frustrations spiraled onto others. As of late, I’ve done a good job of not putting that negative energy onto those around me. And as great as that acknowledgement has been, those feelings and frustrations remain inside of me. It’s something that still needs to be addressed.

From City Kid to Mountain Man

I realized after many years of “second roll-calls” (second roll-call: the coffee time in the field after the official roll-call where coppers vent, catch-up or share their weekend adventures), that I was missing many skills. Everyone around me seemed to be experts at car engines, DIY projects at home & outdoorsman skills.

I had none of that.

Replace the dry wall? Rebuild my carberator? Start a fire? I was a kid from the hood raised by a single mother. Of course I wouldn’t have these skills. So I decided to choose one.

I would become a backpacker.

Backpacking, Focus and Grounding

Backpacking has helped calm me in tremendous ways. It’s funny how digression to simplicity in life can be the epicenter for focus. With focus, one can use that as a jumping off point for whatever he or she is excited about in life, which can lead to great fullfilment for your personal life’s journey.

Backpacking forced me to slow dow. I had to plan and execute just as I did at work everyday. However, being out in the middle of nowhere with nobody to help you but yourself, preparation and execution took on a whole new level of importance.

The obvious value of being around nature was huge. Peaceful meadows, tranquil lakes, calming streams. When you’re out there you have no choice but to give in to the majestic beauty around you. Beauty that cannot be reached via a car or an airplane. A beauty that can be reached only by the sweat and pain of a well earned backpacking hike. Every trip had enough danger which added to the importance of pre planning.

Grounding techniques are key to a healthy mind. As cops, we are always in a state of activation and readiness. It’s how we stay safe and alive. The body dumps mass amounts of chemicals into the body when we are at this ready state (ie adrenaline). However, our bodies are not meant to maintain this level of activation 24/7. This behavior bleeds into our everyday lives while off-duty. Grounding allows our conscious minds to remind our body that we are safe and that it is ok to relax.

So why not give backpacking a chance? I know it seems like big commitment. But as soon as you buy your core equipment, every trip becomes simply gas and food money!

How to Start Backpacking

Maybe you’ve thought about backpacking but don’t know where to start. Allow me to take you through a crash course backpacking trip from beginning to end. Perhaps you can take some of my tips. Perhaps by showing you how it has grounded me, it can help you in the same way. Perhaps it will inspire you to start!

The 10-ish Basics of Backpacking

The following is a quick overview of backpacking. I will revisit many of these topics in depth on future blog posts as it relates to how backpacking has helped me cope with the stressors of police work.

  1. Choosing a Location
    • Scenery– Do you want to see waterfalls? Rivers? Lakes? Rock formations? Caves? Mountain tops? Beach shores? Natural hotsprings? They sky is the limit! Once you decide on the type of scenery you want, you can narrow it down! I use for pictures and great summaries to help me decide.
    • Distance– knowing how far your chosen trail is from home is important in the overall planning. Most of my backpacking has been in the Sequoias. Knowing that a 6-hour drive is in store, and knowing what time I want to land at the camp, helps me gauge what time to leave home! Of course if you’re flying out of state, that’s totally different.
    • Weather – Research the weather conditions for the time frame you want to go. High peak months have more people there than I’d like to share the wilderness with. But if you are just beginning, it’s totally ok to have some backpackers around. Perhaps with some practice and experience you can work on more isolated trips.
    • Permit process– Most trails require backcountry permits. Sometimes you have to pick up the permit at the store near the trailhead (trailhead-Trail starting point, usually has a wooden sign with the name of the trail). But most of the time it’s as easy as an online application. You’ll receive an email then print the permit. Every trail is different and the instructions are usually easy to find on their given websites.

Coming Soon…

2. Buy/rent the right equipment.

3. Food.

4. The Road Trip.

5. The hike.

6. Choosing the right campsite.

7. Backpacking chores.

8. Don’t forget to relax.

9. Things to do.

10. Planning your return.

11. Building your cache of equipment.

To be continued…